Video: Indonesia struggles in aftermath of tsunami and volcano

Image: Villager holds orphan
Disaster Management Agency  /  Reuters
A villager holds a baby who was orphaned by the tsunami.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/27/2010 9:22:27 PM ET 2010-10-28T01:22:27

The death toll from a tsunami and a volcano rose to nearly 350 as more victims of Indonesia's double disasters were found and an official said a warning system installed after a deadly ocean wave in 2004 had broken from a lack of maintenance.

Hundreds were still missing after Monday's tsunami struck the remote Mentawi islands off western Sumatra, where officials were only beginning to chart the scope of the devastation. At least 311 people died as the huge wave, triggered by an undersea earthquake, washed away wooden and bamboo homes, displacing more than 20,000 people.

About 800 miles to the east in central Java, the Mount Merapi volcano was mostly quiet but still a threat after Tuesday's eruption that sent searing ash clouds into the air, killing at least 30 people and injuring 17. Among the dead was a revered elder who had refused to leave his ceremonial post as caretaker of the mountain's spirits.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rushed home from a state visit to Vietnam to deal with the catastrophes, which struck within 24 hours along different points of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a series of fault lines prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

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The first cargo plane loaded with tents, medicine, food and clothes landed Wednesday in the tsunami-hit area, said disaster official Ade Edward.

Huge swaths of land were underwater and homes were torn apart by the 10-foot (3-meter) wave that hit Pagai Utara island in the Indian Ocean south of Sumatra. One house lay tilted, resting on the edge of its red roof, with tires and slabs of concrete piled up on the surrounding sand.

Hundreds of homes were washed away in about 20 villages, displacing more than 20,000 people, Edward said. Many were seeking shelter in makeshift emergency camps or with family and friends.

Vice President Boediono toured devastated villages on Pagai Utara and met with survivors and local officials, his office said. At one point, he paused solemnly in front of several corpses in body bags.

The charity SurfAid International is getting "grim news" from village contacts, said Andrew Judge, head of the group founded by surfers who have been helping deliver aid. He said he is hearing of "more death, large numbers of deaths in some villages."

Video: Indonesia struggles in aftermath of tsunami and volcano (on this page)

With the arrival of help, Edward said officials "finally ... have a chance now to look for more than 400 still missing."

Officials prepared for the worst, sending hundreds of body bags, said Mujiharto, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center.

The islands lie close to the epicenter of the 7.7-magnitude quake that struck late Monday beneath the ocean floor. The fault line on Sumatra island's coast is the same one that caused the 2004 quake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean.

After that monster wave, many countries set up early warning systems in their waters hoping to give people time to flee to higher ground before a tsunami — which can travel hundreds of miles (kilometers) — crashed ashore.

Indonesia's version, completed in 2008 with German aid, has since fallen into such disrepair that it effectively stopped working about a month ago, according to the head of the Meteorology and Geophysic Agency.

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The system, which uses buoys to electronically detect sudden changes in water level, worked when it was completed, but by 2009 routine tests of it were showing problems, said the agency chief, who uses the single name Fauzi. By last month, he said, the entire system was broken because of inexperienced operators.

"We do not have the expertise to monitor the buoys to function as intended," he said.

As a result, he said, not a single siren sounded after Monday's quake. It was unclear if any sirens could have made a difference, since the islands worst affected were so close to the epicenter that the tsunami would have reached them within minutes.

The group that set up the system, the Germany-Indonesia agency Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS), could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the questions Fauzi raised highlighted the difficulty for a poor country such as Indonesia in disaster prevention and response.

Interactive: Anatomy of a volcano

On the ash-covered slopes of Mount Merapi, authorities continued a search for more victims. Dr. Teguh Dwi Santosa, who works at a local hospital, said the death toll had climbed to 30.

The eruption sent thousands streaming into makeshift emergency shelters, although the ash did not disrupt flights over Indonesia. About 36,000 people have been evacuated, according to the Indonesian Red Cross.

Some defied authorities and returned home to check on crops and possessions left behind. More than 11,000 people live on Merapi's fertile slopes.

Tuesday's blast eased pressure that had been building behind a lava dome on the crater. Experts warned that the dome could still collapse, causing an avalanche of the blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.

Video: Indonesia grapples with tsunami, volcano (on this page)

"It's a little calmer today," said Surono, the chief of Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. "But a lot of energy is pent up back there. There's no telling what's next."

The volcano, whose name means "Fire Mountain," has erupted many times in the last 200 years. In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930 more than a dozen villages were incinerated, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

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Among the dead from Tuesday's eruption was an 83-year-old man named Mbah Maridjan, who was entrusted by a late king from the nearby city of Yogyakarta to watch over the mountain's unpredictable spirits. He had refused to leave his house high on its slopes. Maridjan was believed by many Javanese to possess magical powers.

Interactive: The dangers of Mount Merapi (on this page)

The discovery Wednesday of his ash-covered body, reportedly found in a position of Islamic prayer, kneeling face-down on the floor, rattled residents who for years joined his ceremonies to appease the rumbling giant by throwing rice, clothes and chickens into the crater.

Many Indonesians paid tribute to Maridjan on Facebook and Twitter.

"I'm more afraid than ever," said Prapto Wiyono, a 60-year-old farmer from the mountain village of Pangukrejo. "Who's going to tell us what's going on with Merapi?"

President Barack Obama, who spent some of his childhood in Indonesia, said he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life, injuries and damage" caused by the quake and tsunami.

"At the same time, I am heartened and encouraged by the remarkable resiliency of the Indonesian people," Obama added. "As a friend of Indonesia, the United States stands ready to help in any way."

The Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Photos: Volcano erupts

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  1. Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as a villager collects her valuables from the ruins of her house at Kali Tengah village in Sleman, near Yogyakarta on Monday, November 15, 2010. Mount Merapi volcano, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta city in central Java, began spewing searing hot gas and ash clouds more than two weeks ago, and has killed close to a hundred people, disrupted flights and displaced more than 320,000 people. (Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A man cleans the roof of his house from volcanic ash folllowing the eruption of Mount Merapi in Muntilan, Indonesia, on Nov. 15. (Slamet Riyadi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volcanic ash from the Mount Merapi volcano covers a dead farm animal in the Indonesian village of Cangkringan on Nov. 14. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A classroom of a school remains covered with volcanic ash due to the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, on Nov. 14. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Workers clear volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi volcano covering the Borobudur Temple in Muntilan of Indonesia's central Java province on November 13. (Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mount Merapi volcano erupts, as seen from Mungkid village in Magelang in Indonesia's central Java province on Nov. 13. (Andry Prasetyo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Indonesian army soldiers search for victims of the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia on Nov. 13. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Children play on used clothes which will be distributed to evacuees at a temporary shelter for those affected by the eruption of Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Nov. 10, 2010. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Indonesian soldiers search for victims killed in the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, on Nov. 10, 2010. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Search and rescue team members from Yogyakarta carry a victim of Merapi volcano's eruption in Sleman on November 8, 2010. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Motorists ride on a road covered with ash as Mount Merapi spews volcanic material into the air near Wukirsari, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 8. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A farmer walks through his corn field covered in volcanic ash in Muntilan, Indonesia on, Nov. 8. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Muntilan, Magelang, in Indonesia, is covered with ash from Mount Merapi’s eruption, Nov. 8. International flights to Indonesia's capital Jakarta returned to normal Monday, officials said, a day ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama. (Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Volunteers rescue burned victims of the Mount Merapi eruption on Nov. 5 in Argomulyo village,which was devastated by deadly clouds of volcanic ash. (Susanto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lightning strikes as Mount Merapi erupts, spewing towering clouds of hot gas and debris, as seen from Ketep village in Indonesia's central Java province on Nov. 6. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An elderly woman with injuries sustained from Mount Merapi's latest eruption arrives at Sarjito hospital in Yogyakarta Nov. 5. (Dwi Oblo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A woman prays in a temporary shelter at Maguwoharjo Stadium in Yogyakarta, Nov. 5. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    Victims of Mount Merapi eruption lie covered in volcanic ash as rescuers search for others in a village that was hit by pyroclastic flow in Argomulyo, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 5. A deadly surge of blistering gases cascaded down the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano Friday, torching houses in one mountainside village and triggering a chaotic midnight evacuation. (Gembong Nusantara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Kitchen utensils are covered with volcanic ash in the village of Argomulyo on Nov. 5. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. An Indonesian policeman pats a surviving monkey after the village was sweept by Mount Merapi's 'Wedus Gembel' hot gas clouds, Cangkringan, Indonesia on Nov. 5. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A view from a domestic flight from Denpasar to Yogyakarta shows a plume of gas and ash billowing some six miles high from the Mount Merapi volcano during an eruption on November 4. Volcanologists said the "high intensity" eruption was the strongest yet from the 9,616-foot Mount Merapi. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Residents flee on motorcycle under volcanic ash fall during evacuation from a village in Klaten district, Nov. 3, after Mount Merapi erupted. Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano exploded in a frightening new eruption of lava and red-hot rocks Wednesday, sparking panic and forcing the government to order new evacuations. Scientists said the 9,616-foot mountain in central Java erupted with more force than last week's blasts that killed 36 people, spewing huge clouds of searing gas into the sky. (Farras / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. An Indonesian woman cries as volcano Merapi erupts in Klaten, Central Java, Indonesia, Nov. 3. Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupted again with renewed strength in its fourth eruption in eight days, as most villagers had already evacuated the area. At least 38 people were killed when the volcano first erupted last week, and about 70,000 people fled to shelters. (Mohammad Ali / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mount Merapi volcano spews smoke as seen from Sidorejo village in Klaten, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, on Nov. 3. The latest eruption was the biggest yet, causing evacuees to move their shelters even further from the mountain. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Volcanic ash emits steam on a channel near the slope of Mount Merapi in the Sleman district on Nov. 3. (Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A young boy looks out from a truck window as they evacuate Umbulharjo village to a safer place on Nov. 3. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. People evacuate from Umbulharjo village, Sleman, Indonesia, as Mount Merapi erupts on Nov. 3. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. People watch Mount Merapi spewing volcanic materials in Deles on Nov. 2. (Binsar Bakkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Residents of Balerante village prepare to flee, Nov. 1, as Mount Merapi spews smoke and ash. Indonesia's most active volcano claimed at least 36 lives the week before. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Villagers escorted by police carry a suspected looter caught in an abandoned village on Nov. 1 near Mount Merapi. (Arya Bima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. This cemetery in Kinah Rejo is seen covered with ash on Oct. 28. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Police officers and volunteers carry the coffin of a victim of the Mount Merapi eruption during a mass burial in Sleman on Oct. 28. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Volunteers search for victims of the Mount Merapi eruption at Kinahrejo village on Oct. 27. (Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Indonesian women weep after learning that their relatives were killed in the Mount Merapi eruption on Oct. 27. (Irwin Fedriansyah / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Volcanic ash covers the interior of a house in a village badly hit by the Mount Merapi eruption on Oct. 27. (Gembong Nusantara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Residents displaced by the eruption of Mount Merapi queue for food in Sleman on Oct. 27. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A rescuer visits a village hit by pyroclastic flows from the eruption of Mount Merapi on Oct. 27. (Trisnadi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. People in Kaliurang village run for safety after Mount Merapi erupted on Oct. 26. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew back from Hanoi, where he had been due to take part in a summit of Asian leaders, to oversee relief efforts for the Merapi eruption and Sumatra tsunami. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. The Mount Merapi volcano spews thick smoke on Oct. 26. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  2. Editor's note:
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  1. Image: Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as a villager collects her valuables from the ruins of her house at Kali Tengah village in Sleman
    Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (39) Indonesian eruption - Volcano erupts
  2. Image: Tsunami aftermath
    Mast Irham / EPA
    Slideshow (16) Indonesian eruption - Tsunami

Interactive: Mount Merapi

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